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1 Mayor Aims to Add Spark to Flagging Sex Lives on Fri Feb 13, 2009 2:54 am

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February 13, 2009
Mexico City Journal
Mayor Aims to Add Spark to Flagging Sex Lives
By MARC LACEY www.nytimes.com
MEXICO CITY — Flashing a boyish grin, the silver-haired septuagenarian fidgeted nervously. His voice dropped to a whisper. A reddish hue enveloped his face. All this because he was asked how the latest social program to be offered by Mexico City’s government was affecting his home life.

“Things have changed,” Angel Posadas Sandoval, 74, finally confessed, not going into specifics but nonetheless making himself abundantly clear.

He was talking, however obliquely, about the free Viagra the government is giving away to poor men age 60 and above.

With midterm elections looming in July, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has been rather creative in his attempts to make life more livable for the people of this sprawling metropolis, which finds itself clogged with traffic, overwhelmed by smog, prowled by criminals and reeling from the global financial crisis.

The mayor dumps sand at public pools to create artificial beaches. He bans cars from major roadways on Sundays and turns them into sprawling bike paths. The largest skating rink in the world, one that makes Rockefeller Center’s patch of ice look puny, went up in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s central square, for the second straight year over the Christmas holidays.

This weekend, for Valentine’s Day, the government is sponsoring a mass kiss-in, in an attempt to break the world record and raise awareness about domestic violence. “Bésame Mucho,” or “Kiss me a lot,” was recently adopted as the city’s motto by tourism officials, and Mr. Ebrard is expected to preside over the event, though his staff was not sure whether he would be publicly smooching his wife, a former soap opera actress.

But the free Viagra is what had Mr. Posadas, a retiree, hemming and hawing on a recent afternoon. After reading an announcement about Mr. Ebrard’s latest gesture, he summoned the courage to broach the topic of his erectile dysfunction at a local government health center. After undergoing an in-depth health exam and receiving a lecture on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, Mr. Posadas recently became among the first men in the city to be issued a handful of government-subsidized pills.

Apparently, they worked. “Now, I’m able to fulfill my wife,” he said. Mr. Posadas, the father of two and grandfather of six, acknowledged that his sex life had slowed somewhat in recent years.

The initiative may be more about politics than anything else, and with nationwide elections looming in July, candidates across Mexico are beginning to lay the groundwork for their campaigns.

To bolster the fortunes of his leftist Party of Democratic Revolution and to further his own dream of becoming the country’s president in 2012, Mr. Ebrard has pushed to legalize abortion and gay civil unions in the capital and crack down on illegal street vendors and unlicensed taxi operators, who have long been associated with crowds and crime. His plan to expand subway and bus service is ambitious and popular.

In announcing the erectile dysfunction program in November, Mr. Ebrard, 49, portrayed it as a way of bringing smiles to the faces of those who have reached the tercera edad, or third age, as Mexicans call the golden years.

“Everyone has the right to be happy,” the mayor said, noting that many of the poorest elderly people do not qualify for employer-based health plans and have been abandoned by their families. “They don’t have medical services, and a society that doesn’t care for its senior citizens has no dignity.”

An estimated half of Mexican men over the age of 40 experience difficulties achieving erections, said Dr. Irán Roldán, a specialist in geriatrics who helps run the new program at Mexico City’s Department of Public Health. But the subject has not been one that many men have felt comfortable talking about before.

Getting men into public clinics with the promise of free erectile medicine, Dr. Roldán said, could help them get treatment for other related health problems, like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and depression. “This is a public health problem,” she said.

So far, huge crowds have not turned out for the free Viagra, Levitra or Cialis, which are the three tablets being offered. Fewer than 100 inquiries have been made at health clinics and only about a dozen or so men whose erectile dysfunction has been diagnosed have begun the process to get the pills, health officials say. They range in age from their early 60s to 82.

Still, the new program has managed to provoke a spirited debate on a topic that was considered taboo before: sex among senior citizens.

One of Mr. Ebrard’s long-shot rivals for the presidency, Fidel Herrera, 59, the governor of Veracruz State from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, dismissed the Viagra handouts as ridiculous. “What’s the point of encouraging old people to have sex?” he asked in a recent interview. “There’s such a thing as nature. You can’t play God.”

But others disagreed with that take.

“Nobody pays attention to us,” said Bernarda Valenzuela, 77, whose husband died in an accident years ago. “Those children who care for their parents only worry about giving them food and changing their clothes, as if we were children. They forget that we feel many things, even sexual things. We’re not made of wood.”

But Pepe Castro, 65, a barber who dyes his hair jet black, thought the money spent on the pills could be better used on more pressing matters. “There’s other things more important,” he said. “Everyone wants sex, no matter the age, but the government ought to be paying for medicines to keep people alive, not this.”

As for Mr. Posadas, he has used three pills already and has three left from his initial batch. Soon, he will return to the clinic for more tests and, he hopes, another supply.

His artificial knee still hurts him and his cholesterol is elevated. But other than that, he said he felt quite robust. “I’ll enjoy whatever time I have left,” he said, flexing his biceps a bit.

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